Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Leaders – knowing when to quit

We conclude this leadership organisational-vital blog series by asking an obvious question. When should a leader quit?

Leaders, good or bad, are professionally mortal. Leaders should know when the inevitable starts to happen and leave voluntarily. The inevitable in the context of this blog, equates to leaders understanding that they can no longer, sustainably add signature-value, to the bottom line at the organization they lead. Signature-value addition for the leader, is bringing to the table, sustained leverage that those they lead can tap into

Are you still an effective anchor and leverage point for the team you lead?

Effective leaders play the role of the anchor and have to provide leverage for the people they lead. In effect, leaders are OD. tools for those they lead. The latter leverage the leader’s OD. mental superiority.

Leveraging a leader supports a process that transforms the ideas of those they lead from ‘basic’ to ‘complex’ value-creation proposition

How leaders become an effective anchor (leverage tool) for those they lead:

  1. By asking the right questions, and in the process helping those they lead shoe-horn their ideas – this is equivalent to coaching the juniors for growth of self and the organisation
  2. By taking on the work-products of the people they lead, improving them, and ensuring they make the next quality level – guarantees finesse
  3. By identifying the right external resources like consultants and other industry-network resources, and deploy them to add signature-value to the work of the team. The latter is another route to idea-hardening, and creating signature-value for the organization. For example, a flooded consulting labor market makes the selection of the ‘right’ consultant an extremely cumbersome exercise. The authority that consultants ooze, authentic or not, intimidates teams into not asking the right questions of the experts.  Effective leaders bring the wit and experience needed to navigate the consultant and other network pathways
  4. Making the right judgment call – Often, making the right judgment call is about the leader knowing when to give the green-light to move ahead with an activity or process, the amber-light to hold to allow more reflection or observation, or the red-light to abandon action. Leaders play the traffic-light signalling role at the organization. Like the case is on the road when the traffic lights fail, disaster is likely to strike when the leader’s signalling ability fails for whatever reason – it may be due to personal, organisational or external environmental issue

Leaders rarely pick up the signal when they lose the ‘leverage-for-others’ competence, that makes them effective in their role. The latter is particularly the case at the bionically balanced entity due to the interplay between the leader’s role as: leader, strategy maker/overseer, chief structure designer (architect), and people manager. Leaders get mired into the daily OD. stuff, get too attached to the environment and start to lose their bearings.

Indeed, practicing leadership at the bionically balanced organisation is like swinging a pendulum. The leader oscillates between the four organisational-vitals [leadership, strategy, design (architecture), and people] and many never with certainty, tell which of the four OV’s are working well or not.

Usually, leaders assume that they are doing well in the usually menacing maze of OD. dynamics at the bionically balanced entity. However, the complex and fast moving organisational environment, create an OD. blind spot for the leaders – they get the illusion that they are still asking the right questions, providing hands-on support to their teams when needed, and that they still are making the right judgment calls.

In reality, the leaders enter a leadership satiety phase.  When satiety sets in, stakeholders, both direct reports and other industry sector observers begin to question the leader’s attitude, behaviors, ability to manoeuvre and effectively command the leadership space

Leaders should not wait for others to observe that something is awry. After-all, when leaders ‘listen’ to their inner sense, they know it’s time to move on. Uncertain bearings at the bionically balanced entity is dangerous for both the leader and organisation. The latter can quickly degenerate into: sub-optimal performance, value loss for the organisation, and individual credibility issues.

Effective and smart leaders move on when they can longer sustain any of the above four leadership-anchoring variables. To move on, is no admission of ineptitude. To the contrary, it’s a clean break and a sign of sound and credible leadership.

Leadership maturity and success correlate with knowing when it’s time to move on to a new challenge. Trust your gut feeling.


5 responses to “Leaders – knowing when to quit”

  1. We blogged this piece two years ago as a part of the effective leadership series blog – Effectiveness at leadership is about knowing when to say adios.

    Always go for a clean break!


  2. I strongly agree with you Apollo over the issue of quitting. My only problem is that quitting should not only be leveraged on to the point when one consciously realizes a loss of signature value to the organisation. Every one is a leader in whatever capacity and my argument is that people should learn to quit and try other ventures. This not only guarantees the enhancement of opportunity for future elites in leadership but also brokers innovation, creativity and democracy as new leaders will always look out on how else they can do it and in a better way.
    I have continuously continued to pray that when I make 40, I will not look for a job but jobs can look for me. This is a trend that we should be setting that people learn to leave power and leave peacefully.
    An old friend of mine Steven Mukalu (RIP) taught me that during our early years in Primary School and I have since lived by that.
    The problem is still counting on at the expense of the organisations unless leaders learn to quit voluntarily.


    1. Alex – thanks for your insight on this matter

      Agree – if leaders realise that their short of signature-value and quit – the domino effect is new thinking, innovation, etc. The latter is good for wealth and other value creation

      How we get leaders to do what you suggest is our challenge!


  3. Herbert Mugumya Avatar
    Herbert Mugumya

    “Leaders never quit” Its a rare value in few leaders who do self assessment or self evaluation, decide that their value addition is nose diving and decide to quit. At least not in Africa! The competition for limited leadership positions keeps many leaders “hanging in” hoping that situation will improve …. but wapi, sometimes, a whip is used to show them the door way! aka sacking!

    Apollo, you have brought a sensitive topic. I have always sought challenging working environment that keeps me awake to think and seek new directions in solving emerging organizational problems. In my experience, when my work becomes routine tasks for over a year, and as colleagues feel comfortable, that’s when quitting becomes an option. Leave when everyone thinks you are most needed. Not when you are least needed. It is a tricky balance and I do hope Boards of Director should be sensing when work bores the CEO. Otherwise, we have seen many leaders working to entrench themselves than setting pace for sustained leadership succession plan.


    1. Dear kairukabi – yes, we have many examples of leaders that don’t WANT or KNOW when to relinquish power

      All I can say is that they aren’t smart leaders and can’t do well at a bionically-balanced entity

      Ultimately, they do lose focus – perhaps that is the reason American presidents can only do x8 years!!

      I hope that the four levers in this blog will help such leaders to authenticate their signature-value addition situation


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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